Politics

Oregon’s new Congressional district draws a big field of candidates and big spending

By Sam Stites (OPB)
May 3, 2022 12 p.m.

Nine Democrats and seven Republicans are seeking to move on to the November ballot to serve as the first member of Congress representing the state’s 6th District, in what’s become one of the nation’s most expensive races.

The Democratic primary in the race for Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing — and most expensive — contests in the 2022 cycle.

The field features nine candidates spanning the spectrum of political experience. Not all of them live within the new district the state was awarded following the 2020 U.S. Census. Federal law says members of Congress must live in the state they represent, but not in their district.

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The 6th District contains all of Polk and Yamhill counties, and pieces of Marion, Washington and Clackamas counties. It encompasses the cities of Woodburn and Salem, as well as Wilsonville, Sherwood, Tualatin, Tigard and part of Beaverton.

Oregon's U.S. House District 6 under the 2022 redistricting map.

According to the state elections data, Democrats have a slight edge over Republicans in terms of voter registration within the new district, with approximately 26,000 more Democrats. Unaffiliated voters represent the largest pot, as they do in just about every way you slice the state, but unaffiliated voters cannot vote in party primaries.

That means the Democratic candidate chosen in the May 17 election has a fair shot of winning the seat against the Republican nominee in November. In Oregon, a congressional candidate only needs to capture the highest number of votes to win, not the majority, meaning there won’t be a runoff.

The race so far has not been defined by the issues facing voters. Instead, big spending by political action committees on behalf of one candidate has dominated the discussion.

More than $8.8 million has been spent by entities outside of this race on behalf of just two candidates. The race is also outpacing all other Oregon congressional primaries in terms of fundraising at $6.2 million raised by candidates, both Republican and Democrat.

Revelations of big spending by a billionaire-backed PAC on behalf of the formerly unknown Carrick Flynn have captured the headlines despite state Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego winning the backing of influential progressive political institutions such as the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and labor groups such as SEIU Local 503, which typically wield big influence in Democratic primaries because of their ability to turn out the vote.

On the stump and in conversations with OPB, candidates spoke to a great extent about improving access to health care and fighting climate change, but some diverge on their priorities. Creating a more equitable future and expanding opportunities for low-income families and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals were key principles of some platforms. One noted that preventing future pandemics is his top issue, and another says that being unencumbered by corporate or special interest dollars will allow him to advocate for only what voters ask him to.

Seven candidates are running to be the Republican nominee. The commotion in the Democratic race has allowed these candidates to fly somewhat under the radar. OPB was able to catch up with four of the seven.

Side by side maps show how Oregon's congressional districts have changed. In the map 2020, there are five districts, with color codes indicating that district 2 typically elected a Republican, districts 2 and 3 typically elected Democrats, and districts 4 and 5 votes "purple" -- going towards either party depending on the election. In the map of 2022, there are six districts, with District 2 typically electing a Republican, districts 1, 3, 4 and 6 expected to elect Democrats, and district 5 expected to be "purple."

Here is a rundown of the candidates:

Andrea Salinas

Andrea Salinas served for the past four years as the Democratic state representative from Lake Oswego. She gained experience working as a legislative aide for three members of Congress such as Darlene Hooley and Harry Reid. She also worked as an environmental consultant and lobbyist.

She said she’s running for the U.S. House because “the next generation of Oregonians deserve better.”

Oregon State Rep. Andrea Salinas is running to represent the state's new sixth congressional district.

Oregon State Rep. Andrea Salinas is running to represent the state's new sixth congressional district.

Andrea Salinas for Congress

“We’re at this critical position right now in our place in history in our country,” Salinas said. “I have been delivering for this district for years on issues that matter most. Now I want to do it as a member of Congress.”

As a lawmaker, Salinas made health care and equity her priority. She recently helped pass a law making farmworkers eligible for overtime pay. She also helped pass legislation declaring racism a public health crisis as a means to expose inequities in how health care is delivered to communities of color and commissioned the state to study health care inequities.

She said lowering the cost of prescription drugs and protecting women’s access to abortion is paramount.

She also believes pushing the country towards clean energy is important in the fight against climate change.

“I don’t just hold progressive values. I have actually been delivering on progressive victories,” she said. “I think it’s really what sets me apart.”

Salinas said she has a history of working across party lines, and her record as a lawmaker backs that up. A majority of the bills she championed in Salem came with bipartisan support.

She’s also been on the front lines of partisan battles, such as the fight last fall over the state’s process to draw new political maps; she led the House committee on the issue.

The effort saw a bitter end in which House Republicans walked out briefly and accused Democrats of going back on a deal to share power and pushing through gerrymandered maps. Republicans sued to block the maps from taking effect but were unsuccessful.

Salinas said she stands behind her work through that process, and won’t be afraid to stand up for causes that bring progressive victories in Washington, D.C.

“I have a clear path to victory, and I’m really excited about this campaign,” she said. “I’m building a really strong coalition that is growing. The more people we can bring into it the better.”

Teresa Alonso Leon

Teresa Alonso Leon is a three-term Democratic state representative from Woodburn. She was born in Mexico and moved to Oregon when she was 4.

Her parents worked as low-wage farmworkers, and Alonso Leon was the first person to go to college in her family. She’s a former Woodburn City Councilor with a master’s degree in public administration at Portland State University.

Teresa Alonso Leon, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Teresa Alonso Leon, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Craig Mitchelldyer / Courtesy of Teresa Alonso Leon f

As a lawmaker, Alonso Leon made education her area of expertise. She convinced her colleagues to pass a bill requiring colleges to adopt the same enrollment standards for GED and nontraditional students as high graduates. In February, she sponsored legislation to provide grants to help economically disadvantaged Oregonians become more self-sufficient and build wealth.

She said reducing student debt and improving educational opportunities for all Americans — no matter how long their family has lived here — are her priorities.

“I’ve been fighting for our state and our communities in that way before I became a legislator,” she said. “My trajectory was to go into the (state) Senate, but my community has been advocating for me to go to Congress.”

Alonso Leon has lobbied Congress on both education and voting rights. Most recently she attended a national conference in Washington, D.C. last year with Hispanic lawmakers from across the country where they pushed Congress to pass legislation strengthening protections of the right to vote.

She said she’s not a “traditional politician” because of her commitment to representing the interests of her community, not special interests. She wants to expand that community to include all voters in the new 6th District.

“I feel like I’m homegrown,” she said. “There’s pride in getting to say I’m one of our own who has risen from the fields to getting educated, to giving back by representing the community and now wants to continue to give back at the national level to ensure that everybody is seen and heard.”

Carrick Flynn

Carrick Flynn grew up poor in Vernonia, and his family was left homeless for several months after the 1996 flood that sank much of the town under feet of water.

“That experience left a strong sense of vulnerability and empathy in me,” Flynn said. “I think the sensation of living without any sort of safety net, just really hitting the ground when nothing catches you, can implant like that.”

Carrick Flynn is a Democrat running for Oregon's 6th Congressional District.

Carrick Flynn is a Democrat running for Oregon's 6th Congressional District.

Courtesy of Carrick Flynn

Flynn earned a scholarship to attend the University of Oregon, where he studied economic development, and eventually got a law degree from Yale University. He traveled abroad for several years working on issues at the cross-section of economic development, technology and human rights.

He eventually landed at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute as a researcher on artificial intelligence before joining Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

At Georgetown, Flynn began working full time on the issue of pandemic prevention, and was part of a team that wrote part of President Joe Biden’s pandemic prevention plan; that plan was initially part of the massive federal infrastructure bill passed last fall but did not make the final version.

“The proximate cause for me running was knowing that the pandemic prevention bill is just sitting there,” he said. “I helped write the next bill of what we do to make sure this never happens again, and we haven’t done it. It’s insanity.”

Flynn said the bill would have implemented technology that tests patients for recognized diseases and raises alarms when they don’t, allowing governments to respond more quickly and proactively to future pandemics.

He said he’ll make that work the focus of his political career.

Flynn has benefitted from millions of dollars in donations, and they seem to stem from Flynn’s work on pandemic prevention. His biggest backer is a cryptocurrency billionaire and proponent of effective altruism.

The big money coming into the campaign has allowed Flynn to blanket the district with ads, but it’s also frustrated other candidates, who note that the race includes several BIPOC candidates with far more public service experience.

Flynn has also received criticism from environmentalists for a flippant comment regarding protection of the Northern Spotted Owl — the bird whose endangerment designation in 1990 caused a rift between environmentalists and the timber industry. He was also condemned for sympathetic remarks towards Timber Unity, the group that helped kill the cap and trade bill considered by the Oregon Legislature in 2020 which has been linked to far-right figures.

Leaders of several Oregon environmental groups — including the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and PCUN, the state’s Hispanic farmworkers union — signed the letter characterizing Flynn’s as being “out of step” with Oregon Democrats.

“Living here goes hand-in-hand with caring about the natural environment all around us,” the letter said. “If Flynn doesn’t understand that, he shouldn’t be representing us in Congress.”

Cody Reynolds

Cody Reynolds’ earliest memories are of him and his mother living in a women’s shelter in Hawaii.

He wants to be a member of Congress to advocate for a strong social safety net and increased opportunity for all Americans.

Cody Reynolds, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Cody Reynolds, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of Cody for Oregon

At age 18, Reynolds moved to Oregon to help his sister raise her child. A couple of years later in 1997, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

He was deployed to Kuwait, and eventually earned a degree in industrial engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

He was honorably discharged for medical reasons in 2004 and started a financial consulting business. Just before the 2008 market crash, he sold his stock in the company and began traveling the world, which had a major impact on him.

He returned to Oregon and began taking classes at Portland State University, including one on constitutional law. In that course, he and his classmates would present briefs and make arguments on U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Several classmates remarked on his eloquence, he said and urged him to consider a run for elected office. He wrote off the compliments until he was approached by the Oregon Progressive Party’s candidate discovery committee.

“I looked at their platform, and I said, ‘I can represent some of these values,’” he said. “They’re good people. They’re passionate. That was my moment of realization.”

Reynolds decided to aim high. He wasn’t interested in advice telling him to start with local office for city, county or state positions. He wanted to make the most impact immediately, and the place to do that, he thought, was Congress.

In 2011, he ran in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. David Wu, which Suzanne Bonamici won handily. He lost to her again in 2012 and 2014, and in 2016 lost a challenge to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.

He said those losses taught him that Congressional races take money. So Reynolds invested early in Bitcoin and worked at Binance, one of the largest crypto-exchanges in the world.

This year, Reynolds has given his own campaign $2 million. He said financing his own race allows him to run it the way he wants with no strings attached.

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“All I want to do is represent the people in the interests of the people of Oregon,” he said. “They’re concerned with affordable housing, affordable health care and climate change. Those are the things that I think are important.”

Loretta Smith

Loretta Smith is a former Multnomah County commissioner. She entered the race for Oregon’s new 6th Congressional seat before the map for the new district was even drawn.

“My platform is around supporting comprehensive health care, economic and climate justice, and just basically trying to make sure that everyone has a fair shot and equal opportunity,” Smith said.

Loretta Smith, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Loretta Smith, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of Smith campaign

Smith said that the pandemic showed her the areas in which this nation is undeserving BIPOC communities who are left to simply survive. As a single mother who has at times struggled herself, she said she wants to change that.

“I want to make sure that they have a voice for someone, particularly from the federal level, that will push for them to thrive,” she said. “I know the daily challenges that working people face.”

She also said she brings a unique perspective having raised a Black son. Smith said she believes this moment requires “ambitious” leadership from someone “not afraid to tell the truth.”

Smith, a graduate of Oregon State University, worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden for 14 years before winning election to the Multnomah Board of County Commissioners representing north and northeast Portland; she was just the second Black woman elected to the county board.

One of the cornerstones of her first term as a commissioner was SummerWorks PDX, a program that connects youth to paid job opportunities and internships.

Her second term was less effective, and she ended up mired in controversy over allegations by county staffers of bullying. She also repeatedly clashed with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

Smith said she’s put all that behind her and wants voters to judge her for the values she brings to the table, as well as her effectiveness as advocating on behalf of those who’ve been “left behind.”

“We have so few opportunities for Black women to serve at this level because people stay there 30, 40, 50 years,” she said. “It is exciting to think that we can have a Black woman who will be able to represent a region whose diversity has expanded.”

Kathleen Harder

Dr. Kathleen Harder is an internal medicine specialist at Salem Health. She said she’s running for Congress because she’s worried about the state of American democracy and the lack of progress on issues facing Oregon and the nation.

Dr. Kathleen Harder, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Dr. Kathleen Harder, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of Dr. Harder for Congress

“Whether it’s health care, homelessness, the crisis in our schools or climate change, there’s so many huge issues that need to be addressed,” Harder said. “And yet, we see nothing but inaction and hyper-partisanship.”

Harder said she’ll use her experience treating patients on the front lines of the pandemic — most of whom live in the 6th District — as a basis for how she will represent constituents’ wants and needs. As a physician, she’s also lobbied at the state Capitol on behalf of reproductive rights and other health care issues.

“I understand the trials that people are going through from lack of access to health care. Oregon is 49th in access to behavioral health providers,” she said. “People can’t afford their prescription medication, sometimes they have to make a choice between filling their prescription and paying their grocery bill. We have big problems here.”

Harder said she believes it’s presumptuous for candidates in this race who don’t live in the district — Salinas and Smith — to think they can represent it. She said living in Salem for the past 12 years, raising her now-adult children here and participating in the local community gives her an edge in terms of connecting to voters.

“These people have been my patients, my neighbors, my friends, my co-workers,” she said. “I get them.”

Matt West

Matt West is a development engineer at Intel. He describes himself as a scientist and holds a doctorate in chemical engineering with a background in renewable energy.

Matt West, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Matt West, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

KELLY JAMES / Courtesy of the Matt West Campaign

He said he wants to bring trust back to the federal government by injecting science into decision-making and problem-solving.

“I have spent my career fighting climate change,” West said. “I understand how it works and how to pass laws specifically helping to remediate it, and what technologies we need to invest in.”

West’s other priorities include increasing taxes on America’s wealthiest individuals, passing universal healthcare and investing in high-paying jobs in clean energy infrastructure.

As an Intel employee, West is currently leading the effort to unionize the company’s engineers and said he believes that experience will lend itself well to interacting and helping advance the interests of labor groups.

“I am the one person who’s actually walking that line and fighting that fight in person,” he said. “If we want a progressive scientist who will fight climate change as a candidate, we can have it.”

Ron Noble

Ron Noble is a three-term state lawmaker and former law enforcement officer seeking the Republican nomination for the 6th district seat. He retired as McMinnville chief of police in 2014 and won his first legislative race in 2017.

He’s worked on some of the top judiciary issues that have come through the Oregon Legislature in recent years — namely the series of bills to change policing throughout the state. He served on committees dealing with transportation and health care, but he also wrote or co-sponsored policies dealing with child welfare, veterans and infrastructure.

Ron Noble, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Ron Noble, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of Noble for Congress

“In general, I want to do what’s best for people,” Noble said. “I’m not ashamed to say this: I will do what’s best for people over what’s best for the party, doesn’t matter which party.”

Noble said the topics he’s been involved with at the state level are the same he’d like to work on as a member of Congress, particularly national discussions around criminal justice and health care affordability.

He said he was heartened by a conversation he had with his former legislative colleague, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, of Ontario, who told him that Congress isn’t what it looks like from the outside. Bentz told Noble that everyone has a voice and that even first-term lawmakers are given responsibilities and the ability to pass laws.

That enticed Noble to leave his position as a state legislator — where he’s respected by members of both parties as an effective lawmaker willing to work across party lines — to run for the U.S. House.

Noble said he actually sees four major parties in the United States at the moment, Democrats, Republicans and two extreme ends of either party, which he says are pulling the nation in opposite directions. He wants to provide a voice for those who want to move forward by working together.

“(Ideology) isn’t linear, it’s circular. On a circle, the far-right and the far-left are not very far apart,” he said. “We have bigger problems than saying someone is evil because they’re right-wing or they’re progressive.”

Noble said 28 years as a police officer exposed him to some of the most traumatic situations society produces, such as homicide, suicide, mental health problems, addiction and domestic violence. He said he wants to work to provide more resources for people who need them to get back on their feet.

Although Noble takes a collegial tone, he wants voters to know he’s firmly conservative. He says he’s pro-life, and also believes that the government should only be as large as needed “to assist people, not control them.” However, he said, he is a firm believer that many Americans right now need a “hand up.”

“People want to have value,” he said. “They need hope, and we’re not addressing that.”

Angela Plowhead

Angela Plowhead is a military veteran who currently serves as a psychologist in Salem.

She was an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force and worked for the federal Department of Veterans Affairs as a psychologist for 12 years before leaving for private practice in 2014.

Angela Plowhead, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Angela Plowhead, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of the Plowhead campaign

“When I started to see our elected leaders embrace ideas of communism or Marxism, I could see the danger in that,” she said. “When I started to see those ideas actually be played out on the American people during the pandemic, that was a breaking point.”

Plowhead said that seeing food insecurity and crime grow in Oregon also helped push her to run for office. She said protecting the liberties afforded every American citizen by the U.S. Constitution will be her top priority.

“I want to protect our freedom of speech, our second amendment and ensuring that people have the right to bodily autonomy, and not having overreaching mandates that violate informed consent,” Plowhead said.

Plowhead said she believes the experience of owning a small business gives her a unique perspective to take to Congress of the issues taking place in the economy. She also prides herself on being a mother and advocating on behalf of her children and other kids in her community when it comes to education and health care.

“I want to make sure that the freedoms and way of life that I grew up with, that our children have the opportunity to grow up with,” she said. “I’m very invested in making sure Oregon succeeds.”

Nathan Sandvig

Nathan Sandvig is a renewable energy executive from Neskowin.

Nate Sandvig, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Nate Sandvig, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of the Sandvig campaign

He’s an Iraq war veteran and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He wants to bring his experience working on big renewable energy projects to Congress to help the state and nation become more efficient.

“I have some good, real-world experience,” he said. “It’s a nice headline to say, ‘We’re going 100% renewable,’ but to actually do it cost-effectively and reliably is another.”

He said managing the budget of multiple billion-dollar projects has set him up uniquely well to help the country better manage its finances. He’s also concerned about crime and safety, saying he opposes defunding the police.

“I felt safer in Iraq than I do in Portland,” he said.

Sandvig supports term limits for members of Congress. He signed a pledge that he would vote for a limit of three terms if he is elected.

“We need some youth and vitality, some fresh blood in politics,” Sandvig said.

Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is a businessman from Lake Oswego who specializes in shipping and transportation. He mounted two previous unsuccessful runs for Congress in 2006 against former Rep. Darlene Hooley and in 2008 against now-U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader.

Mike Erickson, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Mike Erickson, candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of the Erickson campaign

“As a parent and a small business owner, I’m just fed up with the direction this country is headed,” he said. “I wasn’t going to jump in this race, but I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”

He says “rampant” crime and homeless have been exacerbated by Measure 110 — the ballot measure approved by Oregon voters in 2020 that decriminalized possession of small amounts of some drugs — and vows to lead an effort to get it reconsidered despite it not being a federal policy.

“When you’re an elected congressman, you’re not just representing the district, you’re representing the state,” he said. “I like to lead by example.”

Erickson says he’ll fight against “skyrocketing” inflation by bringing down the national debt. He believes his experience in logistics and supply chain issues would lend a needed voice to Congress at a time when transportation costs are being passed on to consumers and taking more of their income.

“I struggled as a small business owner for years to get my business to where it is today, I feel the pain of a lot of the small businesses out there,” he said. “We need people back in Congress to understand what it takes to manage a business.”

Other Republicans in the race include former one-term Rep. Jim Bunn; a 2020 Republican candidate for the House, Amy Ryan Courser; and Dundee Mayor David Russ.

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